Walking into our first premarital counseling session, my fiancé, Trevor, and I were nervous—more nervous, in fact, than we’d ever been going into a job interview. What if our counselor told us we couldn’t get married? That we weren’t compatible enough?
But that’s not the point of premarital counseling: You and your intended have already made the decision to get married, and after a few years of dating, know each other well. The point is to take a look at the expectations you’re bringing into your marriage, learn how to communicate them, and figure out how to successfully merge them.
Which, if you think about it, is the same goal you have when you’re working with a team at work. Everyone brings different backgrounds, experiences, and expectations to the table—and you have to figure out how to make them work together in order to get the job done. So, why not use some of those same relationship-building skills with your boss and co-workers? Here are the three biggest lessons I’ve learned from premarital counseling, and how you can apply them in the workplace.
1. It doesn’t matter what you’re communicating if it’s not understood
Many relationship authors have written their own personal take on the concept of “love languages.” But the basic idea is this: Each person has his or her favorite way of receiving affection—whether that’s through verbal affirmation, nice gifts, or the giving of quality time—and it’s important to recognize that the way you like to receive love isn’t necessarily the same way that will resonate most deeply with your partner.
Now, think about that when you’re communicating with your boss: How you communicate—or how you prefer to be communicated with—might not be the same as for her. Do you need to check in with her before taking on a new task, or does she prefer that you take the initiative to get started? Does she want to have weekly in-person meetings to catch up on your progress—or would she rather receive a quick email update each morning? Will she respond best to hard numbers or personal success stories from your clients?
You want your achievements to be visible, and you don’t want to leave your boss or co-workers wondering what you’re up to. So once you’ve figured out how to best communicate with each individual you work with, be sure to share your ideas and accomplishments in a way he or she will readily identify with.
2. You can’t be responsible for another’s actions or reactions—only your own
While this sounds simple, it can be one of the hardest things to remember when you’re dead set on doing something your way, and the other person—co-worker or spouse—is not about to capitulate. During a recent non-serious discussion with Trevor, I jokingly threw out, “Why can’t you see things my way? It’s completely reasonable.”
Except that it’s not reasonable at all. You can’t change someone else’s thoughts, opinions, or behavior in a relationship. And at work, that’s definitely not in your job description.
What you can change is how you react to it. If you’re locked in a disagreement with a co-worker, drop the argument for a bit, and agree to revisit it when you’ve both had a chance to consider the other’s perspective. Or, say you’re a manager, and you know one of your employees doesn’t deal well with change. You may not be able to change his aversion to new procedures, but you could consider how to introduce them in a way that won’t catch him by surprise.
3. At the end of the day, you're on the same team
Again, obvious, right? After all, soon you’ll be saying vows about having and holding through good times and bad. But when it comes down to day-to-day quibbles (Do you overschedule every moment of your combined days? Does your partner leave a trail of clutter as he moves throughout the house?), that can be easy to lose sight of.
The same challenge can occur at work if you allow small things to distract you from the overall goals of the team. That one co-worker who’s always late? She’s on your blacklist this week, even though she’s the one who keeps meetings running smoothly when the rest of the group gets off topic. Or maybe it’s the guy in the cubicle across from yours who spends way too much time on the phone with his clients (at max volume, mind you)—but who brings in a hefty chunk of your team’s sales goals.
You’ve got to let the little stuff go and focus on the big picture. Because, when it comes down to it, everyone in your office is (or, at least should be) working toward the same goal. Each person may have different methods, approaches, and working styles, but that’s to be expected—and it’s probably what makes you a good team.
No, you may not get to choose your co-workers the same way you can choose your spouse, but you do have to make the relationship work—for better or for worse. (Or, at least until for a new job do you part.)